Inspiring Artists Stories
Today we'd like to introduce you to Francis San Agustin
Current Location: Garden Grove, CA
Francis, thank you for taking the time to share your story. Could you start by telling us a little about yourself?
Well, ever since I can remember I've always loved singing. My dad is Spanish and my Mom is Filipino. Filipinos are very musical people. They don't play over there. They belt and riff like crazy. I was exposed to a lot of the Filipino pop artists at a young age and I was like, I want to do that! I want to be a pop star!! So when my friends and I would play outside and they'd ask what we should play next? I would be the first to say let's play pretend concerts where we would take turns singing and of course I'd make them all sit and watch me first and I'd get up on a bench and sing Filipino pop songs with an imaginary mic using my fist, even if they didn't want to.
We immigrated to America permanently when I was 6. We first entered America when I was 2 but my mom had to send my sister, who was only a year old, and I back to live with my aunt because she was working full time and it was really tough for her trying to make ends meet. When I was finally enrolled in elementary school here, it was in the 4th grade when I was able to join the school's chorus. School here in the U.S. was very different. I went to a prestigious Catholic school, San Beda, when I was in the Philippines so it was quite a culture shock coming into a public school here in Southern California. It's also where I first experienced what bullying was and it would continue until I graduated out of high school.
As someone who identifies as gender queer now, as a child I didn't know I was different until someone pointed it out or reminded me I was different. From the way I spoke, sat, what I wore, or how I played sports in P.E. So, it was then when I started to internalize my true feelings and with that went along my love for singing. I hid it. I protected it. I didn't want anyone to know how much it meant to me because if I did, it gave people a chance to attack and tear it down. I never asked my parents to get me vocal lessons or dance classes. They didn't entertain my dreams of wanting to be a performer as a profession. To them it was a hobby.
I was in choir throughout school but never did I ever have the courage to audition for a solo. The years of bullying had led me to believe I wasn't good enough. It got pretty dark at times and very isolating. My Senior year is when I started to see the light at the end of the tunnel. My bond with the friends I had were strong enough to carry me through. I started to come out of my shell just a bit. I even became a varsity cheerleader. It was a very big deal back then. I don't know if cheerleaders are still cool. My senior year, my school decided to do a musical for the very first time, Once On This Island. I auditioned, I don't even remember what I sang and I got the male lead. We did the show and then I graduated. It would be 13 years before I'd be on stage again.
Like many Filipinos I went straight to nursing school and received my license when I was 19. It was 2016, I was at work during my break when I thought to myself, I have a career, I'm working but it feels like that's all I'm doing. Just working. I asked myself right then and there what I used to be passionate about. My first love was and will always be singing. I thought back to the last time I felt I was able to express that fully and it was when I did Once On This Island. While on break I took my phone and went on Facebook and typed auditions in the search and that's where I saw that RCT was holding auditions for The Little Mermaid.
Goodness, I walked in very green and with just a headshot. No resume. I was so nervous. I felt like my heart was going to come out of my chest. I printed out whatever music I could find on Google and I found one of "Proud Of Your Boy" from Disney's Aladdin. I wasn't even sure if it was in the right key. I auditioned, didn't get a call back and I thought that was it. At least I tried. It was two days later when Tim Nelson called and asked if I wanted to join the ensemble. I was over the moon! I was just happy to be able to perform on stage again. It reignited my love for singing and performing
Fast forward to 2020 I've worked with people who have been on Broadway, on National and International Tours, shows on Netflix, and I met Lea Salonga. So it's not even what I've done, I'm in awe at the people I've worked with and I'm in awe that I have taken up a small space of this world that's so far from what my everyday life was as a nurse. I've been blessed enough to step into roles I would've never imagined in a million years I'd be given the opportunity to play. The last shoes I had the privilege to slip into, or rather claws, was Sebastian in The Little Mermaid right before the pandemic hit.
So, full circle! Although that's not where I want my circle to end. I want to keep going. That call from Tim really did put me on a track that had led me to some of the most wonderful and fulfilling experiences of my life thus far.
Can you tell us a little more about what you've been working on recently?
Right now I'm on full time nurse mode. I work as a home health nurse. I work with infants and pediatrics. When the pandemic hit, It was very nerve wracking working as a medical professional with so many uncertainties. It was hard to work normally while everyone stayed home. Prior to the pandemic, I had enrolled myself at Golden West College to take a few acting classes. I was also going to a dance studio for ballet and tap just to make me a more well rounded performer. At this time all that has been paused. Including voice lessons with my voice teacher, who is incredible, I miss going to her and learning new material. Practicing a lot of patience and finding other outlets to be creative. Once things get going again I plan to go full steam ahead.
The road of the artist is a sometimes long and bumpy road. Have you had to overcome any on your journey?
I think the biggest obstacles and challenges for me are the ones I create in my own head. The insecurities and the feeling that I need to catch up because I'm pursuing this later than most people. I keep these thoughts and feelings at bay by being present and mindful of my thoughts. I also try not to strive for perfection because it's unachievable.
Are there any lessons that you've learned along your journey so far? Something that you'd want to tell your younger self?
To not be so hard on myself. Allow myself to make mistakes and if they do happen to be more forgiving towards myself. I would definitely tell my younger self to lean into everything that makes you who you are. Embrace it. Love it. Nurture it. Be kind to it. Be forgiving towards it. I find that everything falls into place when you are 100% authentic and living in your truth. Also, don't worry about toilet paper in 2020 it'll be alright.
What's the best piece of advice you've received?
"Be so good that they forget." It's a good one that I keep in my head, when I'm feeling insecure about the way I look and I'm about to step into an audition room. Basically, make sure you hone your talents and let it speak for itself.
What inspires you? Can you tell us about something that maybe inspired you to pursue a life in the arts?
I'm inspired by other artists doing this. It is not easy. If it was, then everybody would be doing it. This is why I love watching live shows. When I see my friends on stage or a professional production it makes me want to be up there with them. It inspires me to set goals, train harder, and be better than I was. If I can do the same and inspire someone with a performance then I'd feel like I've done my duty as an artist because I truly believe that's what it's about. You want what you put out there to inspire people.
What do you consider your proudest moment?
Meeting Filipino and Asian audience members after a show during meet and greets. Asian representation in live theatre is so small, when they see someone who looks like them they get so excited. Especially the kids, they would just give you this stare, and I know they're thinking like, "You look like me and you're up there." It fills my heart.
The mission of The Rose is to make the arts accessible in the community. What purpose do you think the arts or artists play in today's society?
I think art has a way to convey dialogue that is difficult to have or might not even happen in our everyday lives. We are able to tell stories that have subjects filled with stigma or are considered taboo. Subjects like mental health, suicide, homosexuality, or racism just to name a few. Art eases us into being more open and accepting of these subjects. Some of these characters in these shows, in a different shade, exist somewhere in real life. Hopefully it makes us better, understanding people.
What are your hopes for the future of the arts?
I hope and pray that the industry survives this pandemic. That it will continue to thrive after and bring joy once again to people. Also more representation for BIPOC performers. Especially Asians. I think our numbers were the only ones to decrease in the past couple of years on Broadway. That makes me sad.
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